Monday, November 10, 2008

Taking Risks for God

People go to our former hometown, Taylors Falls, to enjoy the state parks on both sides of the river. Hiking and rock climbing are popular. The government, however, has put up signs that try to keep people from doing one of the most exciting activities - jumping from the 50 foot high cliffs into the water below.

For a long time, the only thing that was against the law was the actual jumping. But, at some point in the past 15 years or so, the authorities got smart and decided to come out with a new law: Swimming is prohibited in the St. Croix River downstream from the Highway 8 bridge to the public boat launch at Wisconsin Interstate State Park.

It's a lot easier to catch people swimming than jumping. It's sort of like the Dassel-Cokato School Board's policy #564 against students attending parties where "alcoholic beverages and/or illegal drugs as defined by State Law are illegally present and/or illegally used." If merely getting caught attending such a party means an activity suspension, it should make kids and adults look for other kinds of parties.

There is a problem, though, when we make "safety" an overly important ideal. For one thing, it's boring. I enjoy this blog for the same reason I enjoy preaching -- partly because it's a risk to say things about important subjects. "Blogging" and preaching make life interesting. I loved my trip to Lithuania and my 18 months in Brazil partly for the excitement and newness. I wasn't completely safe in either case. My wife recently started a new profession and went into business for herself. That was a risk too!

Somehow we need to allow our youth the freedom to take risks.
Could one of the reasons kids like to cliff jump and take risks at illegal parties be that their regular life is so safe? Maybe we keep our kids under our roofs for too long! Or maybe we need to encourage risks that aren't stupid. Of course, the line between non-stupid and really dumb isn't always easy to draw.

I believe God wants us to take risks.
The gospel for this coming Sunday, for example, has a story from Jesus where a business man entrusts large sums of money to three slaves. Two of the slaves multiplied their millions -- the original trusts would amount to millions of dollars each in today's money. The other slave safely buries his million in the ground. When the master finally returns "after a long time" the first two are congratulated and receive more and better responsibilities. The cautious slave is condemned.

There are plenty of other examples in the Bible where God encourages risk taking. God took a huge risk when he made me and you and set us free in this amazing world. Even more risky, God himself came to be one of us. He risked himself physically and in every other way. (I wonder if Jesus ever had an adrenline rush? Think about it... what an amazing life he lived!)

Because our Lord expects us to act in a way that is in harmony with his character, we can know he wants us to take some risks. We are made for a certain amount of dangerous behavior. Someone once said: A ship is safe in a harbor, but that's not what ships are made for. Our bodies and minds are made to react very quickly when necessary. A slow and careful life isn't God's plan for healthy people made in the image of God.

On the other hand, those risks are supposed to be taken for a purpose. The risk taking in the "parable of the talents" needs to be understood in connection with the purposes of God in Jesus' whole life and God's purposes as revealed in God's Word. If what we risk is not honoring to God or caring toward others, near and far, then it's just stupid, or worse. A commentary on the gospel for Sunday says:
The parable of the talents is theologically true only when it speaks of the God of Jesus Christ, who loves people in such a way that they are indebted to him for everything that they are and that they can achieve. It is theologically true only when it speaks of his commission to love and of the gifts that are used for that purpose and not for just any human activities. It is theologically true only when it is related to the community of love that Jesus wanted. When it does not speak of these things, it is merely an empty shell of words with which every human activity can be legitimized.
So, you can't use this parable, or the life of Christ, to go wild with crazy behavior. On the other hand, God is calling us to take leaps for him. But those leaps need to be taken out of brave, caring obedience to God.

Are you being too safe, or are you taking stupid risks? What risks is God calling you to take to do good in this world, to bring others to faith in Jesus? I hope to share more about this in coming days, or, if not before, on Sunday in church.



    Do it anyway!

  2. Thanks "W"... I looked at the site you recommended. Worthwhile!

  3. I believe the only way faith grows is putting it to the test by taking risks; following where God is leading us, especially when it's risky. It's easy to feel filled with faith when it's smooth sailing, but then is that really faith?